Travels without a Plan #12

Alice Springs – Darwin – Cairns

It wasn’t that long that I wrote before but so much has happened that I’m getting behind on my news.

From Alice Springs I managed to get a lift in a big van, with what people described as a fairly good representation of the United Nations. The owner of the car was a mad Japanese dental student along with a German primary school teacher, a Dutch real estate agent and myself. All in all with such a mix, it all worked out very well with everyone getting on famously.

First stop on the trip up to Darwin was the Devil’s Marbles, a collection of large round stones that are mysteriously stacked one on top of another. As we approached the stones the rains started, with thunder and lightening thrown in the mix for good measure. So we all got out for the obligatory poses, holding up the stones and stopping them from toppling over, all with the added humour of everyone being soaked to the bone.

The stop for the night was the town of Tennants Creek that in all reality can be described as the armpit of the outback, despite the claims of others who had stayed there that it wasn’t that bad. Our opinions weren’t improved after being approached by five different Aboriginals all wanting money for beer, all within five minutes of each other.

Next day was a day of serious driving with only a couple of stops at a thermal rock pool at a resort called Mackaracka and a brief drink at the Northern Territory’s Oldest Pub in a tiny town called Daly Waters. The pub in the surrounding area is a well known place to relax and unwind and enjoy a few of the local brews. It’s also a magnet for tourists who think that it’s a laugh to leave a few souvenirs from their country. These range from business cards and money all the way to various bits of underwear.

It was at this point that we really started to notice the heat and the HUMIDITY, stepping out of a well ventilated car it was like being slapped in the face by a very hot, damp towel. Looking at each other we only knew that it was going to get worse the closer we got to Darwin.

Next stop was at a town called Katherine, which is the closest location to the stunning Katherine’s Gorge, an amazing collection of five different gorges all interlinked with small rapids. It was with much amusement that on the day that we decided to canoe down the Gorge the local weather reports said that the temperatures were going to be topping 43°C with humidity of over 90%. However the views, the ancient Aboriginal rock art and the temperature of the water, all made the effort worth it. It was here that we also had our first experience of Crocodiles, with beaches marked as being out of bounds due to nesting mothers. All in all an absolutely amazing experience.

A couple of hours away from Katherine is the National Park of Litchfield. Litchfield is the less well known cousin of Kakadu and due to that, far less tourists visit the park, making it popular with the locals. Situated around the park are many huge waterfalls, rock pools, and rivers all of which you are able to swim in due to the removal of Saltwater Crocs. The opportunity to swim at every available place is a blessing as just walking 10 metres causes everyone to sweat, the humidity and the heat in this area is amazing. I thought Litchfield was great, if a little too ‘managed’ for my liking.

We arrived in Darwin in good time after our trip around Litchfield. Darwin is a real gateway city, being the closest point to Asia, and these influences are everywhere. It is also a staging post for the Australian Army to send their troops to East Timor, and there were no shortages of soldiers and members of the UN peacekeeping force wandering around. This also reminds you at how close Australia is to a highly volatile area of the world.

There is only one real reason to visit Darwin and that is Kakadu National Park, located 150km east of the city and after Uluru is Australia’s second most visited area. Kakadu is also on the World Heritage List, due to its extensive system of rainforests and rivers as well as the presence of local Aboriginals in the area for over 100,000 years.

Once you arrive in town you are bombarded with information on tours. It almost becomes impossible to decide. After having recommendations made to us by various people, we opted for a three day, two night 4WD camping Safari with a company called Gondwana, who are a very eco-friendly and nature orientated organisation. So, with nine of us crammed into a Land Cruiser, we headed onto the great unknown. The group was a real mixture, Irish, Swedish, Dutch and German, which made the tour much more interesting.

The tour was a great success. Climbing, swimming, camping, learning about rock art, getting soaked (the wet season is arriving in the tropics), and most of all sweating and getting dirty. I don’t know that I have ever been more filthy, and hot in all my life. Highlights included being stuck in a river as the most amazing storm broke out all around us, and Crocodile watching in three man boats, allowing really close access to these amazing creatures. The whole trip was truly remarkable and the tour company was fantastic. I’ve meet lots of people who say that doing the Kakadu tour at this time of year is crazy due to the heat and the humidity. Yes, it was hot and humid, but for me the build up of the wet season and the storms was part of what made the tour special.

From Darwin I needed to get to the East Coast. First person I met was an Aussie Surfer who had been working in Darwin as a Turtle Guide and was heading home during the wet season. However, after breaking down in the middle of the outback, I transferred my things to a Swiss guy’s car who was driving to Townsville. It’s amazing how things work out!! From Townsville had a couple of days on Magnetic Island, avoiding the rain, spotting Koalas and just generally taking in nature, a truly beautiful place.

Now I’m in Cairns, waiting for a lift further up North. I plan on staying in Cape Tribulation for a week or so, taking in rainforests and beaches and seeing if anyone is going to Cape York, although this I feel is unlikely to happen.